The 24-Hour Day
By Colin Henshaw and Graham Cliff
What we are seeing here is something far more insidious than the nuisance caused to our community of astronomers. Astronomers have already pointed out the fact that we can no longer see the Milky Way from our urban areas, because of light pollution. But this is a symptom of a problem that is far more serious—the twenty-four hour day that pervades our society. This results in unrestricted energy wastage from our cities at night that is not only contributing to global warming through CO2 emissions, but is having a devastating effect on our environment by killing off wildlife.
Lighting is sucking up insects with concomitant effects on consumers higher up the food chain and it is also having a negative effect on vegetation. Fewer insects mean fewer pollinations resulting in reduced plant diversity, exacerbating an already declining insect population.
Continuous exposure to light has a long-term effect on plants by affecting their flowering and abscission cycles, resulting in reduced longevity. This may well affect crops in areas adjacent to conurbations. Furthermore, the twenty-four hour day has serious biological effects on us, reducing melatonin production by suppressing our circadian rhythms. This, amongst other things, results in an increased incidence of certain types of cancer.
Before we see any improvement a universal culture-change is needed regarding our abuse of energy. Over-lighting has to stop and we should cease installing lighting that does not serve any useful purpose. Only then will the environment recover and the quality of life improves for humans, flora and fauna. In short, only then will we improve the quality of “Life on Earth.”
Colin Henshaw independently discovered Supernova SN1987A. The late Graham Cliff was an expert in scanning electron microscopes. Both were long-time amateur astronomers from the UK. Printed with permission from Henshaw.